Perhaps no fiction about a future SF captures utopian yearning as well as Dick's decidedly dystopian works, because his stories, though full of futuristic gadgets, are really about the ways human characters relate to them. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is set in a radically depopulated postwar SF of 2021. The air is filled with radioactive dust and the streets are hauntingly empty as humans race to colonize Mars. Main character Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to "retire" humanlike androids, yet he's mostly concerned about his electric sheep. Because there are almost no animals left on Earth, owning a fake one helps a striver like Deckard keep up appearances.
In 1962's The Man in the High Castle, Dick imagines life in SF after the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II. Nostalgia haunts this story, too. Protagonist R. Childan makes his living selling rare prewar Americana to rich Japanese collectors. Not much has changed in this alternate SF, though. Market Street is still a place of "shooting galleries [and] cheap nightclubs with photos of middle-aged blondes holding their nipples between their wrinkled fingers and leering." While most utopian futures look to the past, Dick's dystopian futures are all eerily about the present.
So how does Mr. Childan deal with the pain of living in a world where Nazis have won the war? How else? "To inspire himself, he lit up a marijuana cigarette," Dick writes, "excellent Land-O-Smiles brand."
Erick Lyle is the editor of Scam magazine. His book, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City, is out now on Soft Skull Press.
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